James D’Aquisto – The Modern Maestro of Archtop Guitars

The history of guitar-making is filled with legendary figures whose influence and craftsmanship have transcended their lifetimes. Among them, James D’Aquisto stands tall, particularly in the realm of archtop guitars. His name resonates with connotations of passion, innovation, and a commitment to aural and visual perfection. Let’s embark on a journey through the life and work of James “Jimmy” D’Aquisto.

Early Life

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1935, D’Aquisto’s love affair with music and guitar began at an early age. Brooklyn, with its rich cultural and musical tapestry, was the ideal backdrop for a budding luthier.

The Mentorship That Shaped a Legend

At age 17, D’Aquisto began an apprenticeship under the renowned John D’Angelico, who was then the leading figure in archtop guitar craftsmanship. This mentorship was pivotal. Under D’Angelico, D’Aquisto not only learned the intricacies of the craft but also absorbed the dedication and love for the art of luthiery.

Upon D’Angelico’s death in 1964, D’Aquisto took over his workshop and began to shape his own legacy, building upon the foundation laid by his mentor.

A New Era of Archtops

While deeply respectful of tradition, D’Aquisto was not bound by it. He started experimenting, reimagining, and pushing the boundaries of what an archtop guitar could be.

Some of his innovations include:

  • Soundholes: D’Aquisto experimented with different soundhole shapes, moving away from the traditional f-holes. His designs, such as the oval-hole and the single-hole, became synonymous with his brand.
  • Simplified Design: He believed in a minimalist approach, stripping away unnecessary adornments and focusing on the guitar’s essential elements. This also led to a reduction in the weight of his guitars, enhancing their playability and comfort.
  • Custom Tailoring: D’Aquisto was known for working closely with musicians, ensuring that each guitar was tailored to its player’s specific needs. This personalized approach made his instruments especially cherished.

Legacy and Impact

James D’Aquisto’s untimely death in 1995 at the age of 59 left the guitar world in mourning, but his legacy was far from over. His innovations continue to inspire modern luthiers. Moreover, D’Aquisto guitars are highly sought after, often fetching substantial sums when they appear at auctions or private sales.

Beyond the guitars themselves, D’Aquisto’s influence permeates modern guitar craftsmanship. His belief in innovation, combined with respect for tradition, serves as a guiding light for many contemporary luthiers.


James D’Aquisto’s life left an indelible mark on the world of guitars. His dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment to excellence continue to resonate. For many, a D’Aquisto guitar is not just an instrument; it’s a piece of history, a testament to the pinnacle of craftsmanship, and a symbol of what it means to meld tradition with innovation.